I was sitting at my computer this rainy February morning, making a list of the greatest-ever country and Americana albums for an upcoming museum show, when Johnny Cash’s face kept rolling past on the Facebook news feed. Of course: it’s his birthday. He would have been 82 today.
In the eleven years since his death, I’ve often been asked to write about the final year of his life and the five days of conversations we had at his house in Hendersonville, Tennessee. But I felt like looking back at some of the earlier interviews we’d done, most of them about one or other of the Rick Rubin/American Recordings albums, and this one, from 2002, was where I found the story of Johnny Cash’s dream.
We were talking about a song he’d written called The Man Comes Around. He wasn’t writing many songs at that point and even this one, he said, was originally a poem, whose 50 or 60 verses kept on changing.”It’s based loosely on the Book of Revelations in the Bible”, he said, : and I would go from one interpretation to another…”
And so, in that deep voice of his, sounding more like a preacher by the minute, the Man in Black went on. I asked if he’d been writing a lot of poetry and he said, “No I haven’t”, he said, “not at all. This was the one thing. And it came out of a dream.” A dream? “A dream”, he said, “about the Queen of England.”
So here is Johnny Cash’s dream.
“I had a dream that I was in Buckingham Palace and I walked in and there she sat on the floor – which she probably doesn’t do at all. But she had a friend there and they were laughing, they had their knitting needles. And I walked up and she looked up at me from her knitting and kind of gasped and said, ‘Johnny Cash, you’re just like a thorn tree in a whirlwind’. And I woke up and I thought, what does that mean? That’s got to be a meaningful dream. But nothing came to me, no revelation, on what that dream meant.
“So I thought about it for a long, long time – this dream was seven years ago – but the idea of this dream kept coming back aroun and I kept thinking about it. So finally I thought, maybe it’s Biblical, so I got a Concordance down, a chain reference system of the Bible, and started looking for it and I found it in the book of Job, about a thorn tree in a whirlwind…”
He had never been to the palace, he said, nor had he met the Queen. “Can you fix me up?” he asked.
Johnny Cash, Feb 26 1932- Sept 12 2003
[More details on the museum event on my Tour page]